To meet India’s power demand, expansion of coal-fired thermal power plants will lead to an array of environmental, health impacts

mundraA new study, “Coal Kills: Health Impacts of Air Pollution from India’s Coal Power”, prepared by Conservation Action Trust (India), a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the environment through advocacy and action, and Urban Emissions (Pvt Ltd), an independent research group, has said that between 2014 and 2030, coal generation capacity will grow by 300%, coal consumption will grow by 200-300%. However, this will also mean that air emissions will at least double, and there will be 100% increase in the health impacts, with an estimated 186,500 to 229,500 premature deaths in 2030. It recommends that there is a need to set stringent emission standards, mandate Flue Gas Desulphurisation (FGD) at all plants, rigorous monitoring, transparency, and improved Environmental Impact Assessment protocols. Executive summary of the report:

As the third largest economy in the world with more than a billion people, the supply of power in India can scarcely keep up with demand. Across the country, households and industry suffer from regular power cuts, while more than 400 million lack access to even this unreliable supply. Given the energy scenario, the need to expand power generation capacity and deliver more electricity for India is immediate. To meet the growing electricity demand, the expansion of the coal-fired thermal power plants (TPPs) is the most likely scenario, which consequently also leads to an array of environmental and health impacts.

Our last assessment, found significant impacts from the existing fleet of coal fired TPPs including between 80,000 and 115,000 deaths annually due to exposure linked their particulate emissions in 2011-12. Keeping that in perspective, this study is an attempt to help rationalise the discourse around expansion of coal power generation – with the goal of presenting the likely impacts of planned future coal-fired TPPs and the likely benefits of more stringent environment regulations on human health.

Our key findings are

  • Coal generation capacity grows 300% – The total installed capacity is expected to increase three times from 159 GW in 2014 to 450 GW in 2030; under the proposed list of power plant projects. Largest (three fold) expansions are expected in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, and Jharkhand, all of which have coal reserves. A two fold expansion is expected in the states of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamilnadu, and Uttar Pradesh
  • Coal consumption increases 200-300% – The total coal consumption is estimated to increase 2-3 times from 660 million tons/year to 1800 million tons/year; accordingly the CO2 emissions from 1,590 million tons/year to 4,320 million tons/year
  • Air emissions at least double through 2030 – The PM, SO2, and NOx emissions will at least double in the same period. Most of the planned plants are supercritical- and ultra-TPPs, which tend to utilise less coal per MWh of electricity generated. With no emission regulations in place for SO2 and NOx, these are assumed uncontrolled and allowed to release through the elevated stacks for dispersioncoal
  • 100% increase in health impacts – The total premature mortality due to the emissions from coal-fired TPPs is expected to grow 2-3 times reaching 186,500 to 229,500 annually in 2030. Asthma cases associated with coal-fired TPP emissions will grow to 42.7 million by 2030
  • Limited emission standards for power plants – India currently has no standards for either SO2 or NOx both of which drive a large portion of the estimated these health impacts – in the form of secondary suphates and secondary nitratesTechnology improvements worldwide have made electricity generation more efficient and hence cleaner and safer for the environment. Establishing standards, especially for SO2 and NOx, at par with those observed in USA, EU, and China, and mandating the flue gas desulphurization (FGD) systems like limestone injection during the combustion process, wet FGD using limestone scrubbing, and high efficiency regeneration, could reduce the annual premature mortality by at least 50% every year.

    Sources of energy in India

Our key recommendations are

  •  Set emission standards – Immediate introduction of emission standards for SO2, NOx, and Mercury for all the coal-fired TPPs
  • Mandate FGD at the plant level – Regulating emissions at the plant level by mandating FGD operations for all the existing, the newly commissioned, and the planned TPPs in India, to benefit from the associated reduction in the ambient PM pollution
  • Practice rigorous monitoring – Introduction of protocols to continuously monitor emissions at all stacks and make the data available to pollution control authorities, civil society, and the public, for further analysis, scrutiny of the emission loads, and verifications. At present, there is absolutely no data available publicly on emissions or the ambient concentrations surrounding the TPPs. The larger TPPs are supposedly equipped with continuous stack monitors; however this information is not open
  • Ensure transparency – Use of information to enforce the emission and pollution standards as necessary, pending the introduction of emission standards and protocols to release monitoring data
  • Improve EIA protocols – The environment clearance procedures require self assessment for only 10km radius of the TPPs; whilst the impacts are observed at much greater distances, considering the minimum stack height for a 500MW TPP is 275m.

Download the full report by clicking HERE

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